A war of words over tyre safety between Pirelli and Ferrari raged on Monday in the aftermath of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, won in consummate fashion by defending two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
The Italian rubber suppliers hit back after being told by Ferrari driver four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who was victim of a high-speed blowout on the penultimate lap, that their tyres were “unacceptable”.
The German was running third in the race behind Briton Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg at the time. His tyre failure, on the Kemmel Straight, cost him his finish and his points and, he claimed afterwards, that it could have cost him his life.
“If this had happened 200 metres earlier, I am not standing here answering your questions now,” he said. “I am with 300 kph in the barriers at Eau Rouge,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
Pirelli, however, heaped the blame for Vettel’s terrifying high-speed puncture on Ferrari for choosing to use a one-stop strategy in a race in which most teams stopped twice for new tyres.
Vettel had completed 28 laps since his pit stop when his right rear tyre disintegrated. Ferrari said their strategy was sound and based on team data approved by a Pirelli technician.
“All the teams have an engineer from Pirelli, and what do you think that engineer is doing?” said Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene.
“He’s not there to chew chewing gum. He’s there to check the tyres and to read the data from the team.”
As the dispute intensified, Pirelli issued a statement in which they claimed that Formula One’s teams had rejected a proposal that would have prevented the Vettel incident.
The statement said: “Since November, 2013, Pirelli requested that there should be rules to govern the maximum number of laps that can be driven on the same set of tyres, among other parameters to do with correct tyre usage.
“This request was not accepted. The proposal put forward a maximum distance equivalent to 50 per cent of the grand prix distance for the prime tyre and 30 per cent for the option.
“These conditions, if applied today at Spa, would have limited the maximum number of laps on the medium compound to 22.”
Vettel left the circuit soon after the race without conducting his usual media work with Ferrari, following on the heels of German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, who was the victim of a similar high-speed tyre failure in practice on Friday afternoon.
“We had something similar on Friday,” said the furious Vettel. “Nico said on Friday he didn’t go off track, I didn’t go off track, so there is no explanation for what happened. And as a matter of fact it is not safe.”
Vettel’s Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene had defended his team’s decision to give Vettel a one-stop strategy, insisting it was “nothing stupid or crazy” and it was based on data from Pirelli.
“The strategy was absolutely right,” he said. “I want to clear that up immediately, because when we do the strategy we have the data, and the data is based on the strategy.
“Seb is of course disappointed. When you have one and a half laps and you can see the third position on the podium and you are going to lose it suddenly of course you are disappointed.”
Although Vettel was vociferous in his criticism of Pirelli, Arrivabene said he preferred not to comment on their products.
“I don’t want to open any kind of fight. I don’t want to start a story going back and forwards,” he said.
It was a forlorn hope.
Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said he was surprised by Ferrari’s strategy.
He said: “It [Vettel’s tyre] was at the end of wear life. Any time in the world, when it gets to the end of its wear life then you’re going to have a problem.
“We thought the strategy was going to be based on two, three stops as you saw the majority do. They [Ferrari] felt clearly they could make it work on the one-stop.
“The wear life was indicated at around 40 laps, but it’s an indication. You don’t guarantee because it’s variable car-to-car, on the race conditions, race situation. Sometimes it’s not a precise data.”
Hamilton’s 39th career victory lifted him 28 points clear of Rosberg in the drivers’ title race with eight races remaining. The next event is next month’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. – Agence France-Presse